Hemant Kumar, while never gaining the sort of insane popularity as other playback singers of Hindi cinema during his time, always had a unique presence. On the surface, the slightly quivering quality of his voice set him apart from the rest, but beyond that, he had a honest cadence and a truly emotional delivery that made many of his songs nothing less than haunting. There can’t be a better example of all his strengths of voice and music than Tum pukar lo from the 1969 film Khamoshi.
As I write this, I have never seen Khamoshi, and in some ways I’m glad for it. The picturisation of this song is so simple, stark and dramatic, that not knowing the exact story behind it, and the exact circumstances of the song, lend it and even greater mystery and beauty. If you try to narrate the video, it sounds almost insane in its uneventfulness.
Waheeda Rehman walks into a large white stairwayed hall in a black sari holding a thick book. She look up the stairs and begins to climb them slowly. She walks through the empty corridors of what looks like some sort of hospital or asylum. She opens a wire-mesh door and enters. There a man sits in a rocking chair with his back to her, singing the song. She almost keeps the book, which turns out to be Meghdoot, down on a side table, but then changes her mind. A single tear escapes her eyes, and then she walks back out slowly, the way she came.
This minimal saga is shot and lit beautifully by Kamal Bose, who won the Filmfare award for Best Cinematographer in the Black-and-White film category for this film, and very subtly directed by Asit Sen. But the true hero of the proceedings is surely Hemant Kumar, who not only sang but also composed the music for the song. In keeping with the brief nature of everything here, Gulzar wrote the short and very appropriate lyrics with straight-forward thoughts such as:
Honth pe liye huye, dil ki baat hum
Jaagte rahenge aur, kitnee raat hum
Mukhtasar si baat hai, tum se pyaar hain
Tumhaaraa intzaar hain.
With my heart’s desire to speak of,
How much longer must I wait tonight?
My message is brief, it’s you I love,
So I await you, in my plight.
I’m glad I haven’t seen Khamoshi yet, because the mystery of this song, the haunting melody, the slow drama of it all, is something I would like to enjoy for a long time to come before I need to have all the answers.